Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 14, 2021.
Yves Herman | Reuters
NATO officials on Tuesday celebrated Turkey’s lifting of its veto against Sweden and Finland joining the transatlantic alliance, a move that brought the Nordic states one step closer to full NATO membership four months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey’s initial opposition came as a major stumbling block and a surprise to many, amid growing urgency among Western nations to push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Finland and Sweden took a historic decision to end their nonaligned positions and join the alliance in the face of Russia’s aggression, but new countries joining NATO requires unanimous approval from all existing member states.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was staunch in his demands of Sweden and Finland, which centered on their relationships with groups that Turkey’s government deems a terrorist threat.
What is a big win for NATO is also a victory for Erdogan, analysts say, and one that the president needed in order to shore up domestic support as his economy flounders and Turks struggle with inflation that’s exceeded 70%.
“Win all around, apart from Putin who is the big loser in all this,” Timothy Ash, an emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, wrote in a note Wednesday. “Good decision by Erdogan. He takes some political capital into elections.”
“He negotiated hard, right up to the last minute, and got real wins with assurances” on security issues and likely on more military equipment from the U.S., Ash wrote. “He had his call with Biden and will get his one-on-one with Biden at Madrid. He comes back in from the cold with the West.”
Turkey ‘got what it wanted’
The breakthrough with Turkey followed four hours of talks and weeks of deliberations and debate, culminating in a trilateral agreement between Turkey, Sweden and Finland. The agreement involved the Nordic countries lifting arms embargoes they had previously imposed on Turkey, toughening their laws against Kurdish militant activists that Ankara deems to be terrorists, and addressing Turkish extradition requests for suspected Kurdish fighters.
Turkey is home to 14 million Kurds, one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a homeland. Their population of 30 million is spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria as well as in immigrant diasporas around the world. Kurds have faced decades of persecution throughout Turkey’s modern history.
One major Kurdish separatist group, called the PKK, or the Kurdish Workers’ Party, has been essentially at war with the Turkish state since the 1980s, engaging in violent tactics that have triggered bloody responses and resulted in more than 40,000 deaths.
Syrian Kurds gather around a US armoured vehicle during a demonstration against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on October 6, 2019.
DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP | Getty Images
Turkey, Sweden and Finland all classify the PKK as a terrorist organization. But Erdogan accused the two Nordic states of harboring and supporting PKK fighters, which those countries deny. But Sweden in particular does support and send aid to other Kurdish groups in Syria that Turkey’s government does not differentiate from the PKK.
For Erdogan, a guarantee of better cooperation on this issue and demonstrated respect for its security needs was priority number …….